Updates to the guidelines are based on findings from extensive research and expert input. One of the main differences between the 2009 and 2020 guidelines is the revised recommendations for adults. To reduce the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury, the number of standard drinks has been reduced to no more than 10 standard drinks per week. Previously the recommendation was to drink no more than two standard drinks on any day (14 standard drinks per week). These updates were required to ensure a healthy adult minimises their risk of alcohol-related death, disease or injury. New evidence shows a stronger and more consistent relationship between drinking alcohol and risk of cancers including breast, liver, pancreatic, colorectal, oesophageal, mouth and throat cancer. The level of risk for cancer increases as more alcohol is consumed.
Recommendations for children aged <18 years have changed slightly. In the previous edition of the guidelines, advice was split for those under 15 years of age and those aged 15-17 years. In the current guidelines there is one single recommendation for all under 18s i.e., to reduce the risk of alcohol-related injury and other harms, they should not drink alcohol at all. There continues to be clear evidence that people under 18 are particularly vulnerable to alcohol-related harms, and the one guideline for all adolescents gives a clear message that is in line with the current evidence.
Finally, for pregnant women the 2020 guidelines have been revised from “not drinking is the safest option” to making a clear recommendation that when pregnant, you “should not drink”. This update responds to new evidence which shows there is no safe level of alcohol during pregnancy. Recent findings also show that drinking any amount of alcohol during pregnancy is directly linked to developmental abnormalities (craniofacial), mental disorders, attention deficits, and impulsiveness in offspring.
It’s important to remember that following the guidelines does not remove all risk. About 1 out of 100 Australians, drinking within these recommendations, is still likely to die from an alcohol-related condition.
For more information and the evidence documents which informed the guidelines check out the National Health and Medical Research Council website here.